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Book/Movie


slaytonf
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With regard the the book to movie theme for this month, from the earliest times, the cinema has mined literature and popular fiction for subject matter. Sad to say, most of the results are disappointing. Sad, but not surprising, as most movies aren't much good. Some movies are just as good as the books they are based on. Not to say they are necessarily faithful renditions, but as artistic achievements, they equal them. Films like Lean's Great Expectations, and Leonard's Pride and Prejudice come to mind.

 

Most rare are films that are better than the books they are based on. It might seem there would be a lot of these, considering how many mediocre and bad books there are, and how much easier it would be to make a movie that was better out of it. But it seems bad books only inspire bad movies.

 

Two movies that occur to me that are better than the books they are based on are both by H. G. Wells. They are The Invisible Man (1933), and The Island of Dr. Moreau, movie title The Island of Lost Souls (1932). In both cases, for example, the storyline is streamlined and concentrated. In The Invisible Man, James Whale also introduces a significant element of humor, as in the scene he chases an hysterical woman down a snowy road while singing "Nuts in May." This operates in a variety of ways. It breaks the tension of an otherwise serious subject, and heightens our impression of his insanity. An example of how the Island of Lost Souls improves on the book is the development of the character of the Panther Woman, Lota. Her only presence in the book was her screams of pain as Dr. Moreau practiced his vivisection on her. On the screen she becomes one of the most exotically sensual female characters in film, and an important element in how the plot is advanced, and the themes of the movie developed.

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Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz definitely betters the book, mostly because in this case the methods of the book are absolutely better suited to cinema (as opposed to something similar like Ulysses, which I don't think would work correctly as a film.) Fassbinder also deletes one new character introduced at a crucial point in the book and replaces them with an existing character, which seems like such an obviously right decision it's strange that Alfred Doblin didn't write it that way to begin with. Not to mention the final two hour episode, which is where Fassbinder most explicitly marks the work as his own new creation. And in the book, you don't get Peer Raben's music (really great, probably my favorite film score) or Gunther Lamprecht as Franz Biberkopf (one of the definitive male performances in cinema.)

 

I like Sternberg's Crime and Punishment even though it necessarily is missing a lot of what's in the book but he really gets a lot out of the combination of his lighting and Peter Lorre's performance. It's much better than his flat version of An American Tragedy (not a "lost classic." Sylvia Sidney is its only selling point.)

 

I don't believe a definitive Dostoevsky film has ever been created. Edward Yang's A Brighter Summer Day is perhaps, in spirit if not literally, the only real Dostoevsky film.

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Oh, how could I forget Kurosawa's version of The Idiot, which should be one of his best films. I really like this. It's a shame we may never get to see the whole original cut as Kurosawa really gets a whole lot right in the butchered version. Setsuko Hara's casting is perfect, as is Chieko Higashiyama as the mother.

 

Kurosawa really nails a lot of the characterization and atmosphere but the film's problem is that it's missing most of the social element of the book and the lack of length prohibits it from stretching out time in the way the book does, but that's not his fault in this case.

 

The currently surviving version is like a really well rendered cliffnotes, the original cut must have been special.

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I've done this before on this forum. I think the examples I cited were *The Natural* , where the character Hobbs was changed to a rather nice guy from a shady kind of creep, *Forrest Gump* , in which Gump is changed to a simple minded country boy from the more or less **** "good time" personage in the book. Then there was the overhaul (for the better) of a book called "Think of A Number" by Anders Bodelsen into the Canadian film *The Silent Partner* , with Eliot Gould and Christopher Plummer.

 

 

I'm STILL waiting for an adaptation of *The Hunchback of Notre Dame* in which Esmeralda gets hung at the end as she was in Hugo's epic novel.

 

 

I think I titled my thread, "Movies that are better than the book". Or maybe just "Better than the book".

 

 

Sepiatone

 

 

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Dostoevsky probably works better for the mini-series format. There's a great BBC version of THE POSSESSED, probably from the 1970s, with little-known actors like Keith Bell and James Caffrey, with Angela Pleasence and Rosalie Crutchley great in supporting roles. An adaptation of THE IDIOT, about the same vintage, starring David Buck, was not shown in America but received rave reviews. There was also a version of THE GAMBLER with Edith Evans as the grandmother. I don't think any of these are available.

 

 

I prefer the film version of THE REMAINS OF THE DAY to the novel, good as that is. The novel, narrated by the uncomprehending butler, is high comedy with undertones of tragedy. The film is tragic with undertones of comedy, a much deeper experience. In the film we directly experience the consequences of the butler's inability to love.

 

 

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Sorry, Sepiatone, didn't mean to poach. Great minds think alike? I agree with you about Notre Dame de Paris. The image Hugo paints of Esmeralda wiggling and jerking from afar is one of my favorite in literature. It's always been difficult for me to get my mind around the fact the worldly, cynical autor of this book was the same one who produced the idealistic, reformist Les Miserables. But I do have to say two movies based on it, the Lon Chaney and Charles Laughton versions, are as good as the book.

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OK, No. 1: Never HEARD of that version, clore. I'll have to check it out. Thanks for the info.

 

 

No. 2: Not only the image, Slayton, of Esmeralda jerking and wiggling, but also the guy sitting on her SHOULDERS is a lasting image. ICK!

 

 

Sepiatone

 

 

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I just noticed, scheduled for the godawful time of 3:30 a.m. (tomorrow morning, I guess) is a version of *Moby Dick* I'd never heard of. It's from 1930 (hey, that's the year I once thought didn't produce any movies!) and it stars John Barrymore as Ahab, and several women, which is odd, considering there are pretty much no female characters in the novel. None of any significance, I'd wager ( just getting into a sea-faring style of speaking).

The presence of several female characters along with Barrymore, God bless him but I bet (wager) he really hams up the already over-the-top character of Ahab, makes me suspect that this version isn't very good. But the "deal breaker" on that hypothesis is that there apparently is no one listed to play Ishmael. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Ismael the central character in the novel? How can they make a film version of Moby Dick without an Ishmael?

I mean, it's one of the most famous opening lines of any novel..."Call me Ishmael."

 

I see the more famous film version of *Moby Dick*, John Huston's 1956 offering starring Gregory Peck and Richard Basehart ( an underappreciated actor), is being aired Saturday January 19, at 3:00p.m.

(As opposed to 3 a.m., which is when its predecessor is showing.give or take half an hour.)

 

I wonder why they wouldn't or couldn't show the 1956 *Moby Dick* this month, which, as this thread states, is a month exploring the theme of novels made into film.

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Hey, it's Hollywood! I'm sure the special effects are stunning. (being sarcastic). Hope some hardy soul watches it and reports back! I'd heard of it........

 

 

You thought no movies were made in 1930? (LOL) Did you think they were on strike???

 

Edited by: Hibi on Nov 7, 2012 4:41 PM

 

Edited by: Hibi on Nov 7, 2012 4:41 PM

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> {quote:title=JonasEB wrote:

> }{quote}I like Sternberg's Crime and Punishment even though it necessarily is missing a lot of what's in the book but he really gets a lot out of the combination of his lighting and Peter Lorre's performance. It's much better than his flat version of An American Tragedy (not a "lost classic." Sylvia Sidney is its only selling point.)

>

>

>

> I don't believe a definitive Dostoevsky film has ever been created. Edward Yang's A Brighter Summer Day is perhaps, in spirit if not literally, the only real Dostoevsky film.

You're right about Dostoevsky, Jonas. I think that's because Doestoevsky's brilliance was his almost psychoanalytic ability to delve into his character's inner turmoil & conflict--something not easy to render on screen.

 

And since you mentioned An American Tragedy, I think George Steven's A Place in the Sun is an excellent adaptation of that tragic book. That would be a great example of a movie that DOES live up to & perhaps exceed the greatness of its original material.

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> {quote:title=slaytonf wrote:}{quote}Referring to the IMDB description of the movie should go a long way to answering your questions. Thanks for alerting me to the fact is isn't Houston's Moby Dick. If I can't stay up to see it, I'll record it.

Sorry I guess I'm dumb or something, but after looking up the IMDB site as you suggested I was none the wiser. That is, the only actual question I asked in my post was why the earlier 1930 version of *Moby Dick* did not appear to have the character of Ishmael in it, and that question remains unanswered. (The article I found on IMDB was about the John Huston version, couldn't find anything on the 1930 one.)

 

Edit: Ok, I spoke too soon. I looked a little harder and found this:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0021149/

 

but it sounds wretched, a silly and extremely unfaithful rendition of the novel, to the point where it should hardly even be called *Moby Dick* - that is, if the plot syopsis is anything to go by. Melville must have spun around a couple of times in his grave when this was released.

 

Edited by: misswonderly on Nov 7, 2012 9:34 PM

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> {quote:title=LiamCasey wrote:}{quote}Considering the level of literature being expressed in this thread, I'm also embarrassed to mention that, in my opinion, *Jaws* and the original *Planet Of The Apes* are two cases off the top of my head where the movie is better than the book.

Well, actually, I believe the general wisdom on this is that "pulp" or "trashy" fiction, whatever you want to call it, makes better movies than "literature". I've heard Hitchcock sought them out ( "junky" novels) just to get a basic plot idea, and then reworked it from there. This kind of book was his preference, the only exception I can think of being *Rebecca*, from the very literary Daphne DuMaurier novel of the same name.

 

The thing about making a film from a "great work of literature" ( Dickens, Flaubert, Melville, Tolstoy, Faulkner, etc. etc...) is that more often than not, novels by writers such as the above named tend to be very long, often spanning many years in time, with many characters and many details. Such works are definitely worth reading, but reading is a very different activity from watching a film.

 

"In my opinion" ( yeah yeah of course) most films over about 2 -21/2 hours in length suffer from "over-lengthy" syndrome, they become weighed down with their own noble aspirations, and sink. There are exceptions, yes. But what I'm saying is, in general a film, no matter how well-written, directed, produced, and acted, that is based on a "work of literature", almost by necessity has to leave out a lot of what was in the novel. There's just no room, no time, to include all the characters, plot developments, and most of all, a lot of the inner musings that often accompany a novel. So the film is almost by definition going to be lesser than the book upon which it's based.

 

 

For this reason I dislike almost all filmed versions of Jane Eyre. Ditto for most Dickens adaptations. And let's not even get into all those movies based on War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

Some of them may be good movies, but are likely best enjoyed if the viewer hasn't read the novel.

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I agree...often they do a great job. The Brits are especially good at this. I remember many wonderful series based- quite faithfully- on 19th and early 20th century novels, made in England and aired on PBS. I think they're still around, but back in the day the PBS program that provided these gems was called "Masterpiece Theatre".

 

That's the way to do it, if you really want to translate a long novel into film. That way, the extra length allows for the story to play out the way it does in the book.

The absolute best series of this nature I've ever seen was a fairly recent adaptation of Dickens' LIttle Dorritt - made in 2008, I believe. It was fantastic ! Here's a link to a wiki article about it, just on the off-chance that anyone's interested ( probably not, judging by the traffic, or relative lack of, that this thread has seen...)

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Dorrit_%28TV_miniseries%29

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I think you mean *The Jewel in the Crown*, from the novels by Paul Scott ( also called "The Raj Quartet".) The series was produced in 1984. Yes, Peggy Ashcroft was in it. It was pretty good, as I recall.

 

This is such an interesting subject, at least to me. I'm kind of surprised this thread keeps sinking down to the bottom of the page. Slayton, where are you?

Oh well, Hibi, you and I will hold the fort. :)

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